It’s with mixed feelings that I watch Isaac Sohna’s taxi pull away from the Centre de Formation. I’m 90% sure I’ve made the right decision in sending him on loan to Nîmes, but that 10% is niggling me. He gave a decent account of himself against Valenciennes after all. Nevertheless, it’s a done deal. Sohna’s gone and it’s up to him to train well, perform well and develop. Good luck, Isaac.
Another player on the move is 18 year old striker Serge Bamba. He’s pretty quick, fit and tricky with good technique and a free kick or 2 in his locker. Swiss Challenge League side Le Mont LS want him to be a regular starter for them this season and I accept their offer. Hopefully he too will benefit from a year away playing regular football.
Yet another player off on loan is 18 year old American full back Ed Bolton. He’s an interesting player and strikes me as a future versatile squad player as he can hold his own physically, works hard, has a good team ethic and can play with either foot and at either full back position.
There’s a reason that we have several Americans like Ed coming through our ranks, having grown up in Texas or Colarado, and that’s because we have deep roots in both of those States, having been linked with both Colorado Rush and Texas Rush for the last 12 years. We get the first option on both clubs’ players and we also bring some of their junior players over to gain experience in a top French academy, with the happy byproduct of some of them breaking through into our Under 19’s.
Anyway, Ed’s attracted a tremendous amount of interest from his home nation but I’m sending him to FC Chambly-Oise in the French National League. American players, unlike most African players, count towards the Non-EU player limit so it’s in my interest to keep him in France so that he can continue to work towards citizenship. Plus, Chambly-Oise are one of the favourites for promotion so if they can pull it off that’ll be good experience for Ed.
With a heavy heart I also agree a fee with Marseille for Benjamin Valette, our incredibly talented teenage defensive midfielder. Their initial offer is around £900k but I want £2M for him. We compromise in the end, with Marseille paying £500k up front and another £2M over the next 2 years. I don’t plan on spending much more in this window anyway so the staggered payments don’t bother me. We also put in a clause that’ll give us 50% of his next fee, because obviously.
Amidst all the outgoings, we do manage to bring in Mamadou Doucouré though. I’m very happy with this deal as the Senegalese International has got tremendous pedigree and has the quality to be in or around our first team.
We reject a few more offers, like Nancy Lorraine’s £450k bid for winger Alessandro Bassani and LOSC’s and Stade Rennais’ barely improved bids for skilful striker Abdoulaye Traoré.
And before my first Coupe de la Ligue match, Bamba’s loan move to Le Mont and Valette’s permanent transfer to Marseille are both tied up. It’s a shame to lose Benjamin but I think we’ve at least done some good business there.
Anyway, as I say it’s time for us to start our Coupe de la Ligue campaign. GFC Ajaccio are our opponents today, a semi pro side in the French National League. It may feel like I’ve been here for a while at this point but I still need to get to know some of these players and this match presents the perfect opportunity.
As per my usual first season mentality, I’m not overly fussed about this cup competition and will be fielding the players that either need to bed in, that haven’t had a real chance under me so far, or that I’ve been less than impressed with and want them to get a kick start against easier opposition. We’ll be playing a fluid attacking variant of Project: Meatloaf as even with our reserves we should have enough quality to see off a side from a lower tier. Bingourou Kamara starts in net. He was L’AJA’s starting goalkeeper for most of last season but has yet to feature for me. He’ll be protected by right back Issa Samba, centre backs Godspower Tower and debutant Mamadou Doucouré and left back Jérôme Mombris. Abdoulaye Sissako and Raf will take the centre of midfield with Phil Foden cutting in from the right, Corentin Tirard out on the left and Amine Chassaing playing behind striker Nathan Andre. In the absence of both our captain and vice captain who have been left out of the squad, Samba takes the armband for us today.
10 minutes into the game, Raf plays a long ball onto the right flank for Phil Foden. The former City man takes the ball down well, cuts inside and has a pop, but the keeper catches it. Not a bad first effort.
A few minutes later the ball’s down the other end. Ajaccio’s right winger Zoubir capitalises on some hesitant defending by Mombris and nicks the ball off him. He crosses from the byline to the near post where Miquilan can’t quite get his shot away. He eventually manages to roll the ball across the face of goal looking for a team mate but fortunately Samba’s there to hoof it clear.
With half an hour gone the visitors are matching us better than I expected and I drop us back slightly to just try to control the game. Not long after, Andre picks the ball up from deep and dribbles forwards before having a crack at goal from 20 yards, but he puts it wide.
For the second half I want us making better quality chances so I urge the lads to patiently work the ball into the box. It makes no difference though, we make next to no impact on the second half. Tirard, who started today after his fairly alarmingly poor performance on the opening day, has not done himself any favours today and I hook him after the hour with Foden scooting across to the left wing and Zoun coming on and taking the right.
With 10 minutes to play, Foden too makes way. Hopefully Bassani can save the day. Alas the young winger’s no more able to score than any of our other players were before, and I’m so fucking bored by this drab match that I’m starting to break out the sodding rhymes.
Puel has a pot shot for the minnows in the dying seconds of normal time but he nearly puts the ball out for a throw. We go to penalties. It’s been a while.
“Who wants them?” I ask my players, who’re surrounding me in a tight circle on the edge of the pitch. Nobody’s overly enthusiastic but we eventually get 4 names down. Striker Nathan Andre and midfielders Amine Chassaing, Abdoulaye Sissako and Raf. “Anyone else?” I ask, starting to worry. A hand cautiously raises itself into the air. I turn around to face the volunteer.
“I will take it.” Says Mamadou Doucouré, our debutant centre back. I can’t hide my surprise, but I’m impressed too. This lad’s got some nerve.
“You’re in,” I smile. “Last up.”
There’s a hush around the ground as the 4000-odd Auxerrois fans watch ballsy young striker Nathan Andre place the ball on the spot. Andre runs up left footed, puts the ball high down the centre and the keeper flaps at it, unable to stop it from bulging the back of the net. Good start. By contrast, Cédric D’Ulivo’s walk to the spot is accompanied by a loud chorus of boos and whistles. The centre back steps up confidently though and slots the ball into the bottom left corner, leaving Kamara grasping at thin air.
GFC Ajaccio continue to match us after that. Chassaing scores to the bottom right, then Hamadou scores to the top left. Sissako scores down the middle, then Puel scores to the bottom left. Raf scores to the bottom left, then Zoubir scores to the top right. It’s sudden death from now on. 4-4 after 8 penalties and the only question is who will blink first, us or them. Mamadou picks up the ball and walks calmly to the penalty spot, where he places it down carefully. He counts his steps backwards and prepares for the run up. Come on mate. Make it a debut to remember. The referee’s whistle blows… The keeper dances on his line… Doucouré runs up… He slams it down the middle as the keeper dives to his right… But his trailing hand shoots up to bat the ball away. Bollocks. Mbae steps up for Ajaccio’s 5th penalty and dispatches it into the top left hand corner. GFC Ajaccio win 5-4 on penalties.
Why on Earth did I let Doucouré take it? The deciding penalty and I gave it to the debutant. What a stupid fucking decision. To be fair it was a very good save by the keeper, throwing out a strong hand after already committing himself to diving away from the ball, but still. I’ve let Doucouré down there. His confidence, barely above rock bottom after being frozen out at his parent club, is now through the floor and we’re out of the cup at the first hurdle. I know I want to focus on the League but I was hoping to at least turn over the team from the division below in our first bloody game.
There ain’t no rest for the wicked though. The wicked of course being AS Nancy Lorraine, who are the next team to identify one of our young talents and insult us with a really awful low-ball bid. Esteban Mercier is a defensive midfielder that I quite like. He’s miles away from being the finished product but at 15 years old that’s probably fair enough. What impresses me though is his bravery. That’s one of those things that you just can’t coach. Either you have it or you don’t and this lad has it and some to spare.
Nancy’s £82k bid is swatted away without comment as I’m interested to see how he develops, along with another bloody bid for Bassani from FC Lorient.
Moving on from our Coupe de la Ligue disappointment then and after 2 games it’d be naive of me to read too much into our status as league leaders, but today we make the trip to take on Bourg-en-Bresse 01, who are breathing down our necks in 2nd. We both have 6 points out of a possible 6 but we have a slightly better goal difference with 4 to their 3.
We’ll go with Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one as I’m uncertain about going up against a side who’ve also won both of their matches without a holding man. Unsurprisingly I’m also making the full 11 changes from the side that lost to Ajaccio; Lenogue in net, Aguilar, Captiste, Kakuba and Hikem at the back, Goujon as the holding man, Fomba and Joel in the middle and Zoun and Ba on the wings supporting Aidir. Let’s get back on track, shall we?
The first 40 minutes or so are pretty quiet, with the best chance coming after a quarter of an hour when Joël tees up Aidir but his shot is charged down by Bourg-en-Bresse defender Sangaré. With a couple of minutes to go before half time though Zoun runs the ball forward into the opposition half. He passes inside to Lamine Fomba, who sends it on to Hicham Aidir. Hicham bursts past his marker and toe pokes the ball from the edge of the box, sending it into the far bottom corner of the net.
As we go into the second half Bourg-en-Bresse start to show their intentions of pushing forwards and equalising, so we’ll pass into the space that they’re leaving behind. After an hour we win a corner on the right and Faouzi Hikem goes across to take it. He swings a fantastically vicious ball into the centre of the box and surprisingly it’s Adama Ba that rises to meet it, but he can only get enough contact for a glancing header that sends the ball wide of the far post.
Over the next 20 minutes I make a few changes and tweaks: First Foden comes on for Zoun and will cut in from the right, so both full backs will be encouraged to get forwards on the overlap past him and Ba and help us put the game to bed. For the last 10 minutes Sissako comes on replacing Joël, adding more steel to midfield.
We so nearly make it to full time unscathed, but Bourg throw the kitchen sink at us and it finally pays off when Ba is caught sleeping and Rabeasimbola plays a through ball behind him for right back Damour. Damour drills a cross in from the right touchline and Bègue’s there at the near post to apply the finish, levelling the game in the 91st minute.
Let’s be fair, Bourg-en-Bresse have taken 2 late points from us exactly a week after we gained 2 late points from Valenciennes. They say that these things even themselves out in football and it seems like this time they’re right. Besides, despite the fact that we’ve fallen below AC Ajaccio to 2nd in the table, 7 points from our first 3 matches is fine. It’s better than fine actually, it’s still a brilliant start so I’m staying optimistic for the time being.